Tag Archives: food

135. Café Du Monde: Fried Dough at its Finest

6 Dec

cafe du mondeOh, Top Chef New Orleans, you’re killing me. When you edit in a shot of a certain green and white striped awning, Café Du Monde calls to me. And I think, “Yes, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong, indeed I DO know what it means to miss New Orleans.”

What do I miss most about Café Du Monde? Two words: fried dough. Also, powdered sugar. Heaps of powdered sugar. Most of which will land on your blouse, pants, skirt, dress, suit jacket, tie, whatever. Maybe even your socks. It’s impossible to eat at Café Du Monde without making a mess of yourself. But that’s part of its charm.

Heaven on a plate...

Heaven on a plate…

You may be thinking “Perhaps I would order something other than beignets, then I wouldn’t get messy.” You also wouldn’t get fed, seeing as there is exactly one food item on the menu.

You might recall this excerpt from The Pelican Brief:

She bought a Post and a Times-Picayune from a sidewalk vendor and found a table in a deserted corner of Café Du Monde…A waiter finally made it by, and she ordered coffee and a plain bagel.

John Grisham might ought to have added that she (Darby) waited there till three days after the world ended and never did get served. There are no bagels, plain or otherwise, at Café Du Monde. And if “deserted corners” exist there, I’ve never seen them. But perhaps the crowds thin out at some point in the 24 hours they’re open each day.

I remember the first time I visited the Original French Market Coffee Stand. This was during the World’s Fair in 1984, when I sported one of my worst self-inflicted hairstyles. (I’d cropped my hair closely on both sides, leaving the bangs and back long–sort of a cross between a mullet and a mohawk. A mulhawk.)

Anyhoo, I sat at a hard-to-come-by table with various members of my family and was amazed that our waitress felt no need to write down the order. Later I realized this wasn’t such a miraculous feat given the limited menu options.

After a few minutes wait, we were presented with a pile of deep-fried dough covered under a mountain of powdered sugar. “This,” I thought, “is where I want to go when I die.” Which if I had the chance to eat there every day would happen sooner rather than later.

On the way out, one of us spotted a yellow box of beignet mix. Hallelujah! No longer would I be satisfied with makeshift donuts made from canned biscuit dough. Not when I could recreate the Café Du Monde experience at home.

Sadly, eating “homemade” beignets isn’t nearly as much fun because A. No cooks or waitresses and B. People-watching opportunities are limited. Besides which, deep frying dough requires a certain patience and skill that I lack. I probably still have a long-since expired box of beignet mix hiding in one of my kitchen cabinets.

Yes, y'all, they also sell coffee.

Yes, y’all, they also sell coffee.

Folks who’ve frequented Café Du Monde might be thinking, “What about the COFFEE? Get to the chicory coffee already!!”

Ok, so. I’ve heard tell that they make a mighty fine cup of Joe. I will take y’all’s word for it. Even after a decade in Seattle, I’m still not a coffee drinker.

But maybe that’s because I haven’t tried Café Du Monde’s legendary café au lait, half coffee and half hot milk. According to their website, the chicory softens the bitter edge of the dark roasted coffee, adding an almost chocolate flavor.

Sounds sort of like hot chocolate with extra caffeine. I will order a cup next time I’m there and report back.

beignet mixCDM coffeeIn the meantime, if you can’t get to the New Orleans area in the foreseeable future, don’t despair. On second thought, go ahead and despair. But know that you can order cans of chicory coffee and boxes of beignet mix direct from Café Du Monde here. The prices are quite reasonable, until you get to the shipping charges. Consider yourself warned.

What’s your fondest Café Du Monde memory? How many beignets can you eat in one sitting? And is chicory coffee really tastier than the regular stuff?

Photo Credits from Flickr Creative Commons: Cafe Du Monde exterior by praline3001; Plate ‘o Beignets by Tammy Camp and Café au Lait by Gwen Harlow.

133. Cornbread Dressing, Because Stuffing is for the Birds

26 Nov

One of Southern Living's "83 Spectacular Thanksgiving Sides" Click for recipes.

One of Southern Living’s “83 Spectacular Thanksgiving Sides” Click for recipes.

First off, I must clarify that we’re not talking about stuffing. Most Southerners can’t be bothered to actually stuff a turkey; we’re far too busy stuffing ourselves. Besides which, everybody knows the turkey cannot possibly hold enough stuffing to go around. Unless said turkey were roughly the size of one of those balloons at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And then it wouldn’t fit in the oven.

The major difference between dressing and stuffing is the main ingredient. One features crumbled cornbread, the other cubed white bread. Also, dressing tends to be moist and delicious, whereas stuffing is less so. Plus, stuffing has been known to contain all manner of non-essential add ins: Dried fruit, fresh fruit, nuts, mushrooms, root vegetables, and even kale.

The list of ingredients for cornbread dressing is blessedly short: cornbread, eggs, stock, onions (and maybe celery), and salt and pepper. Some folks add in sage, but my mom hated it nearly as much as All Things Tacky, so our dressing was always sans sage.

Southerners along the Gulf Coast often add oysters in the mix. I’m not sure how my Delta-raised mother latched on to this tradition, but for years she made half and half oyster and regular. Which would have been fine if half the family liked oyster dressing. Alas, only two out of eight or so did.

gobble gobble napkinsBut then Hallelujah! My sister-in-law Kay took over the dressing one year and introduced us to duck, which upped the deliciousness factor by roughly 1000%. Nary an oyster ever darkened our dressing again.

I should warn y’all that dealing with duck can be a pain in the ass, not to mention the fingers (from trying to pull hot duck off the bone due to a failure to plan ahead). The depth of flavor and level of moistness the bird adds is worth the extra effort. Especially if you’re not actually participating in the preparation.

Since I spend most Thanksgivings in Seattle, I have resigned myself to eating stuffing. Folks here don’t understand the true nature of cornbread. If they attempted to make dressing with sugary Yankee pone, they’d end up with dessert. Which, now that I think about it, might not be such a terrible idea. Especially if they threw in the fruit and nuts.

Several years ago, I rejoiced upon learning that an expat Southern couple would be providing the dressing for a Thanksgiving gathering. Between the creamy mashed potatoes and the authentic cornbread dressing, Chad and Leah made me think for just a moment that I was home for the holidays. Alas, they’ve moved to Asheville, and I’ve been stuck with stuffing ever since.

give thanksIn case you are wondering why I don’t volunteer to bring the dressing, it’s because I made the mistake of introducing Seattle folks to green bean bundles. Now they’ve become my price of admission to all Thanksgiving gatherings. These fussy sweet and savory bundles are only slightly less challenging than dealing with duck. If I tried to make both dishes, I’d never have the energy for shopping on Black Friday.

As the holiday approaches, I’m thankful to be part of a family whose love eclipses distance and time zones, and for my “family” here who make Seattle home.

Also, I’m thankful to Kay Holloway for sharing her recipe so I can pass it along to y’all.

Kay’s Duckalicious Cornbread Dressing

Not to be confused with cornbread mix.

Not to be confused with cornbread mix.

For the cornbread:
1 1/2 cups cornmeal mix
1/2 cup flour self rising
2 eggs well beaten
Enough buttermilk to pour it in the skillet
Pinch of salt
Tablespoon of sugar
Finely choped onions (don’t tell Jenna)
Finely chopped celery

Add some butter to a baking dish and preheat in a 400-degree oven. Mix all of the above ingredients, pour into heated pan and bake till golden brown (25 minutes?).

For the dressing:
One duck, thawed
A few boiled eggs, chopped
Lots of butter
Seasonings to taste

Boil Duck, debone, and save broth. When cornbread is cool, add duck meat, chopped boiled eggs, pinch of sage, and salt and pepper to taste. Crumble well with hands, add duck broth and stir until well mixed. Put pats of butter at intervals and bake @ 350 till browned. Add duck broth if it gets too dry and stir. (Lots of real butter and greasy duck broth.) My note: If you’re making a pre-smoked Butterball as I am wont to do, cook the bird on top of the dressing, so the juices seep into it. Also, I had no idea Kay added a pinch of sage to the dressing. Thankfully, Mom never noticed.

Kay says: I usually make 2 or 3 containers of the cornbread to have plenty for the dressing. Never had too much, of course Mike and the kids would pass through the kitchen and nibble on it. It’s actually good with the tiny celery and onions in it! Comfort food tastes way better when someone you care about “fixes” it!

What’s your favorite holiday comfort food? And what do you like in your dressing? Please do tell.

Photo Credits: Cornbread dressing and 82 other recipes from Southern Living; Gobble Gobble Napkins available from WhiteTulipEmbroidery at Etsy; and Give Thanks Pumpkins from SkyeArt at Etsy.

132. Sweet Potato Casserole: Dessert in Disguise

21 Nov

sweet potato casseroleSome Southerners are partial to the pie, but I prefer my sweet potatoes in a casserole. Mainly because it allows me to fool myself into thinking that what I’m eating is a vegetable, not dessert.

I’m not sure how I got elected for the job, but I’m the official Holloway sweet potato casserole queen. (Not to be confused with an actual Sweet Potato Queen.) Every Christmas, I whip up a big dish of the delectable stuff, but not before arguing with my sister about how much to make. She pushes me to triple the recipe, but I stand firm at double, seeing as we always end up with way too many leftovers. Even a die-hard sweet potato fan gets a little queasy at the thought of eating reheated casserole more than three days in a row.

Back in the days before we switched from canned to fresh sweet potatoes, I had a whole other argument with my Mom each year. She tried to convince me that I should include the liquid from the can, when clearly draining is the only way to go. Unless you want sweet potato soup. Which I don’t.

For Southerners, sweet potato casseroles fall into two distinct camps: marshmallow topping or pecan/brown sugar crumble. The Holloways are nut people. That’s not to say I’d abstain from eating the marshmallow variety. Quite the contrary. I run across sweet potato casserole about as frequently as Baptists enter dance halls by the front door so I take what I can get. But given my druthers, I’ll opt for pecans.

BC sweet potato casseroleA while back I was browsing Grocery Outlet, where one can find an array of interesting products not seen in major chains. I’m talking Kellogg’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Corn Pops, Lil’ Joey Pancake Pockets, and Spam Singles. Imagine my shock and horror when I happened upon Betty Crocker’s Sweet Potato Casserole mix. Why, Betty? Why?

Sweet potato casserole isn’t hard to make. Especially when one is left alone in the kitchen. Sure, it always takes about twice as long as I think it will. And peeling sweet potatoes is a pain in the ass. But I’d never resort to serving “casserole” made with a blend of reconstituted sweet and russet (WTF?) potatoes. Prior to the zombie apocalypse, anyway.

Some of my family’s best loved dishes are related to us by marriage. I’m sure we’d have adored my sister-in-law Karen even if she’d come with an empty recipe box. Thankfully, we’ll never have to find out.

Karen Holloway’s Sweet Potato Casserole
3 cups sweet potatoes (drained)
1/2 cup butter (melted)
1 t vanilla
1 cup sugar
2 eggs beaten
1/3 cup milk

Boil sweet potatoes over medium high heat till tender. Drain and mash. In a large bowl, mix potatoes with all other ingredients and pour into a buttered baking dish.

Top with the following mixture:
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup butter (melted)
1 cup chopped pecans

Bake at 350 for 15 to 20 minutes or until top is browned

Notes: I’m not sure how many sweet potatoes equal three cups. I usually peel and cut up a few and add them to a 4-cup measuring cup. I fill the cup to the top to compensate for the gaps around the pieces. I tend to err on the side of too much potato. If anybody has a better way of guestimating three cups of potatoes, please enlighten me.

When doubling the recipe, I usually just use one and a half times the topping. When tripling the recipe…oh right, I don’t.

The size of baking dish wasn’t specified. Similar recipes call for 1 1/2 to 2 qt. casserole dishes. I usually opt for a 9 X 13 dish, unless I’m doubling in which case I use the biggest dish I can find.

The recipe calls for 20 minutes bake time, but I’d allow at least 40. You want the top to be good and crunchy.

What’s your pleasure: Nuts or marshmallows? Have you ever done both?

Photo credit: Sweet potato casserole by bengarland, Flickr Creative Commons.

130. Dixie-Style Party Food: Dip it Good!

15 Nov

Spinach artichoke dip–click for recipe.

Spinach artichoke dip–click for recipe.

As I plunged yet another tortilla chip into a cheesy dip embellished with bits of delectable shrimpiness, I said, “I wish we had an O’Charley’s in Seattle.”

Upon second thought (and perhaps taking a moment to swallow) I added, “But there’s really nothing here Geoff would eat.”

Mom said, “What about this?”

“The dip? It has shrimp in it.”

“They won’t let him eat SHRIMP?” Mom said, horrified.

“Who? The vegetarian police?”

“Well, I think he ought to be able to eat shrimp. It’s just a little bit of meat. And it’s so good.”

Like many folks here in the Pacific Northwest, Geoff doesn’t really understand the concept of dip. Sure, he’ll spread a little hummus on flatbread or add an olive tapenade to toast, but that’s about it. Unless you count chutney, which I don’t.

I, on the other hand, come from a long line of folks who’ve perfected the art of dunking carbs into fat.

The last gathering I attended in Mississippi featured no less than three dips and a variety of dip-delivery vehicles. In order of my personal preference, we had: 1. Rotel embellished with sausage and cream cheese with Fritos Scoops for dipping 2. Creamy spinach dip with Hawaiian bread (vegetable = “healthy”) and 3. A garlic and onion dip made with a spice pack my sister bought at the fair. I believe the last one was served with Chicken in a Biskit crackers to compensate for the meat-less dip.

Dip mix booth at the MS state fair.

Dip mix booth at the MS state fair.

Perhaps I should also mention the strawberry cheesecake dip mix Jenna brought along in case the huge strawberry cake and tub of ice cream failed to deliver sufficient sweetness. Thankfully, the emergency rations weren’t necessary.

Dips are the ultimate communal Southern food. Even more comforting than casseroles. Why? Because you almost always eat them while standing around chatting with folks. Whether you’re attending a party or a wake, the camaraderie that develops around a dip bowl is palpable. Until some asshole double dips. But then the rest of the group has a new topic of gossip–with a shelf-life of YEARS. Decades, even.

Communal dipping allows some mighty powerful self delusion, such as:
• Calories don’t count when you eat standing up.
• Each dipped chip is just a small bite. It’s not like you’re eating a whole entire PLATE of nachos.
• You deserve something yummy after eating all those vegetables (doused in Ranch dressing).
• Since there’s no food on your plate, folks will assume you’re still keeping track of those Weight Watcher points.
• You may never encounter such a wealth of dips again–better stock up!

There is some truth to that last one. One never really knows where the next dip is coming from. Oh, sure, you could whip up a batch of Rotel and eat it at home in front of the TV, but this completely eliminates the self-delusion factor. With every dunk of the chip, you’re just waiting for the Biggest Loser folks to sneak in and film you. Or maybe I’m the only one with this particular fear…

Now that we’ve discussed the hows and whys of dipping, let’s talk about the whats.

Like most Southern snacks, dips fall into two distinct categories: Sweet and Savory.

On the savory spectrum, you’ll find two separate but equally tasty groups (although occasionally cross-pollination occurs). Let’s call them cheesy and creamy.

Click for recipe

Click for recipe

Cheesy dips include, but are not limited to: Rotel (with or without meat), artichoke, broccoli, shrimp, crab, Buffalo chicken, Jalapeño popper, Vidalia onion, bacon and cheddar, and pimiento cheese. One might even toss bleu cheese dressing into this category. Preferably as an accompaniment to wings, not crudités.

Creamy dips tend to be a bit mayonnaise-y in nature, but can also feature sour cream as the main ingredient, seeing as some folks harbor mild to severe aversions to oil and egg emulsions. These include everything from your basic, store bought French onion dip to homemade comeback sauce. You’ll also find cheese-less versions of shrimp or bacon dip, but they are probably not as good. In fact, when I started writing this paragraph, I thought there would be a long list of creamy dips, but I’m kinda drawing a blank. Even after spending far too much time poking around on Pinterest. So let’s move on…

Click for recipe

Click for recipe

Sweet dips. I honestly don’t have much experience in this category either, seeing as I prefer my sweets to be baked up in the oven. But I’ll give y’all the recipe for my all-time favorite sweet dip, courtesy of my sister-in-law Karen.

Got a pen? Well, you don’t even need one; it’s that easy.

Mix 8-oz of softened cream cheese with one jar of marshmallow fluff. Serve with any fruit you like. It would probably be awesome on cookies, if you don’t even want to bother pretending to be healthy.

You’ll find copious recipes for sweet dips on the Internets featuring everything from chocolate chips and cream cheese to peanut butter and bananas. Salted caramel, cake batter, cookie dough, Oreos, s’mores…endless variations of stuff to plunge Nilla Wafers or Graham crackers into. Or pretzels for the sweet & salty lovers among us.

I’ve put together a handy reference on Pinterest for y’all. You’ll find links to all manner of yummy-looking dips. I have not personally made any of them (yet), but I did make sure they all link to actual recipes. Proceed with cautious optimism.

What’s your all-time favorite party dip? And do you consider solo dipping a taboo?

Photo Credits: Spinach Artichoke and Monster Cookie Dip from The Girl Who Ate Everything; Hail Mary Dip from ‘liciousfood; Dip Stand Pic courtesy of Jenna.

129. Pecan Pie: Kicks Apple’s Butt Any Day

11 Jul

The next best thing to pumpkin pieHere in Seattle, pecan pie sightings of any variety are few and far between. Which is probably just as well seeing as restauranteurs here would likely substitute walnuts and toss in some rosemary or cumin for a creative twist. I have had a couple of decent renditions featuring chocolate and/or bourbon, but nothing comes close to the sticky indulgence I grew up with.

Now normally, I would think of pecan pie as a dessert served in the fall or winter months, but someone somewhere declared July 12 National Pecan Pie Day. Who am I to argue? It’s not like I would turn down a piece of pecan pie anytime, anywhere. Wait! I should amend that:

Pecan pie’s not worth the calories if it’s:
Sold in convenience stores
Found in your grocer’s freezer
Served cold
Made with Splenda (yes, I realize this means fewer calories–still not worth it.)

Also, I’d steer clear of any pecan pie that calls to mind the word “revamped.” It’s vamped enough! Don’t mess with perfection.

41LbM077IQL.01._SR300,300_Folks might argue with me, but I think the secret to perfect pecan pie is corn syrup, or Karo as we say in the South. Does another brand exist? If so, I’ve never noticed. Having not made a pecan pie in years, I’m not sure which side to take in the light vs. dark debate. Anybody care to weigh in?

When it comes to pecans, you’ll want to use the best you can find, seeing as they’re the star. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t buy a 10 pound bag from the roadside stand I encountered off I-95 in Georgia. But seeing as I had no room in my luggage or freezer at home, it’s just as well. Not really, but still.

World's Largest Pecan Pie MuralIf you already know how to make perfect pie crust, skip ahead to the next paragraph. Ok, now that it’s just us, I’ll admit that I’m still struggling with this fickle beast and have been known to use those Pillsbury ones next to the heat-up cookies. This will do in a pinch. Just don’t resort to the frozen kind in the tin; they are inedible. Also, while a graham cracker crust IS mighty easy, it will never work for a pecan pie. Probably.

The first time I made a pecan pie, I was amazed to discover that you can mix the nuts in with the sticky goo and they’ll rise to the top. Note: This is probably not the method Martha Stewart prefers. And for the love of all that is tasty, leave those pecans whole (or, technically, half). Save the pieces for brownies, cookies, banana bread, whatnot.

Folks in the Holloway family are devout dessert eaters, which is why my nephew Ben has been permanently barred from carrying sweets to the table. He’s 20-something now and could most likely be trusted, but no. In the beginning, there was carrot cake. “Was” being the operative word.

Due to popular demand, nearly every family occasion featured his mom’s delectable two-layer cake piled high with just-tangy-enough cream cheese frosting. Now, the distance from my parent’s den to the dining room being minimal, someone (I’m not naming names only because I don’t remember) allowed this hyper eight-year-old boy-child to carry in the cake. He might’ve made it three or four skipping steps before…plop! Shrieks of horror, cries of despair, there might have even been cursing (there was most definitely cursing). Then my mom and Kay salvaged what they could, put it back on the plate, and promptly set about serving it. I’m not ashamed to tell y’all that not a one of us gave a second thought to digging in. Not even our dinner guest, Mary Bess, who might as well be family. If Kay ever opened a bakery, the tagline could be “Floor Lickin’ Good.”

Texas Pecan pieHow does that story relate to pecan pie? Well, cut to Thanksgiving dinner at Mike and Kay’s with a bunch of no longer hungry but still-wanting-something-sweet Holloways. (That’s generally how we roll). Once again, someone allowed Ben to carry in dessert. Only this time, he decided to put the pecan pie on his head. On. His. HEAD. Well, you don’t need me to tell you what happened. And, yes, we ate that off the floor, too. BUT, we finally learned our lesson.

I’ll leave y’all with another family recipe that’s characteristically short and exceptionally sweet. Remember, handle with care.

Pecan Pie (Kay)
1 cup white Karo syrup
1 1/2 cups pecans
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs (beaten)
1 t vanilla
1/2 t salt

Mix ingredients. Bake in pie crust at 325 for 50 minutes.

What’s your secret to perfect pie crust? And have you ever eaten dessert off the floor?

Photo credits from Flickr Creative Commons: Pecan pie by ldrose, World’s Largest by kb35, and Texas pecan pie by texascooking.

Rerun: 16. Catfish (The “Deep-Fried” is Implied)

25 Jun

In an effort to be timely, I’m offering this rerun in honor of National Catfish Day (which I’d never heard of till I checked my Twitter feed this morning).

Ok, a lot of these posts feature food (or drink), and I reckon you can guess why: We Southerners loves us some food. Hey, Mississippi didn’t get to be the fattest state in the US for nothing!

So while folks here in Seattle are swooning over salmon, my peeps back home are loyal to the good old-fashioned fried catfish. With hushpuppies (which one of my Seattle friends mistakenly called “puff daddies.” Of course, the name stuck).

Though I now regularly buy organic produce and “hippie eggs,” I’m still of the opinion that farm-raised catfish is the way to go. Sure, maybe wild catfish live happier lives, but they are notorious bottom feeders. For me, eating free-range catfish would be akin to munching on a fried vulture. Ick. As an aside, when I lived in LA, I was extolling the virtues of farm-raised catfish to a work friend who said, “Farm-raised? I thought it was a fish!”

There’s a reason I’m writing this blog, people.

Now if you happen to be in the South and are itching to try some catfish, I recommend Jerry’s in Florence, MS. Not necessarily because it’s the best, but because it may be the one and only place you’ll eat catfish in an igloo. Yes, I said igloo.

Jerry's Fish House, Florence, MS

It’s been a long time since I’ve been there, and I can’t really remember whether the catfish or hushpuppies are anything special. But it’s one of few places where I, an avowed fish hater, will actually eat fish.

What’s your favorite catfish joint?

Update: I’ve since learned that my local organic grocery store, PCC Natural Markets (which may stand for Politically Correct Cooking) endorses farm-raised catfish. They pass out a pocket-size Seafood Watch guide that lists the most sustainable choices for fish-loving folks. In case you’re interested, click for additional reading on why farm-raised catfish (but not salmon!) is best.

Rerun: 2. Deep Freezers–Like Closets, But Colder

7 Jun

freezer ad

While I’m on the subject of appliances Southerners can’t live without…

Everybody I know in the South has a deep freeze. Everybody. Care to guess how many deep freezers I’ve seen between here and L.A.? Yep, that would be none.

So why do Southern folks love deep freezers? Frankly, I don’t really know. I could speculate that they need the extra room to store a hunting season’s worth of venison, but more often, they’re packed with Kid’s Cuisines and Costco bags of chicken breasts. Oh, and ice. You can always use an extra bag or two of ice. Never know when the gas station up the road will run out. And then how will you make margaritas?

My sister asked me a few years back why I didn’t have a deep freezer. I believe I was living in a basement apartment at the time, so I figured the answer was obvious. Anyhow, like the Albert Brooks character in “Mother,” I am of the belief that not everything belongs in the freezer, which is why they make it smaller.

Fast forward a few years to the day I noticed our freezer was on the blink. First hint? Soft-serve ice cream. Geoff and I took a field trip to Lowes and Home Depot in search of a replacement. After great debate (well, not exactly Lincoln and Douglas, but still) we settled on a top-freezer Frigidaire with an Energy Star rating. Imagine my surprise when we got it home and I noticed that the freezer compartment was considerably smaller than our previous model. I must admit, I have begun to reconsider my position on deep freezers.

The other day, as I was attempting to wedge a Costco bag of pecans into the freezer door shelf, I made the executive decision to banish Geoff’s square egg maker (don’t ask) and stainless steel pitcher to the countertop. Upon noticing his exiled stuff, Geoff picked up the pitcher and said, “This is the foamer for my espresso machine.”

WHAT?

“You mean,” I say, “The espresso machine that’s been in the basement since we moved in? I’ve been working around this thing for FIVE YEARS?”

Indeed. And he’d been working around it in his old freezer for countless years before that.

So then I proceed to look for more dead weight in the freezer. I hold up one of those cold pack thingies and say, “What about this? Do you use this?”

“That came with the refrigerator,” he says.

I reckon once I finish tossing the useless crap, I won’t need a deep freeze after all.

What all do you keep in your deep freeze? Could you live without it or even want to?

Update: For the better part of the last year, I’ve been lobbying for a deep freeze. I really need more real estate for storing cookie dough, French macarons, and buttercream frosting. Not to mention the ginormous freezer bowl for the KitchenAid ice cream maker. Oh and all the ice cream and sorbet made in it. Besides which, I’ve been meaning to get around to trying my hand at freezer jam with the overabundance of plums from our backyard tree…Geoff is of the opinion that I need not stockpile frozen treats. I agree; I don’t need to. But I WANT to! Show of hands, who thinks I should get one?

Photo credits: GE Freezer by Deluxx, Flickr Creative Commons.

Rerun–43. Cracker Barrel: Putting the Kitsch in Kitchen

10 May

2658965445_b485f917caSo, the evening after I revisited Stuckey’s, Cracker Barrel lured me in with their ever-present billboards. I think it was the one about “homemade dumplings” that won me over. Wish I’d reread this post before eating there:

You’d think the novelty of nostalgia would have worn off by now, but judging from the ever-crowded parking lot, I reckon not. But then Cracker Barrel combines two of Southern women’s greatest loves: eating and shopping. Also, you can get in quite a bit of gossiping, too, depending on who you run into and how long you have to wait for a table.

I’m not going to extol the virtues of Cracker Barrel’s food, because I fail to see any. Ok, I’ll admit, they do have some good pecan pancakes that come with wee bottles of maple syrup. I know this because whenever I’d come home to visit, Mom would wake me up WAAAAY early the next day (like around 9:00) to go get some pancakes.

What Cracker Barrel lacks in culinary skills, they make up for in kitsch. Where else are you going to find cornbread pans, patriotic clocks, wooden toys, and old-timey candy all in one place? Ok, maybe your grandmother’s house. But the candy will likely be not so much old-timey as just plain old.IMG_0241

There’s plenty to look at while you wait, and the fun doesn’t stop after you’re seated. Who’s up for a challenging round of the peg game? You know the one with a triangle-shaped piece of wood featuring pegs filled with golf tees? The object is to “jump” and remove the other tees, leaving only one tee standing. It sounds more exciting than it is. But then, maybe I’m just bitter because I’ve yet to win.

I’ve only ever been to Cracker Barrel for breakfast because from what I hear, that’s the only meal worth eating. However, I can’t imagine the food would be any worse than the short-lived “Po Folks” that we used to patronize frequently in college. Because, hey, we WERE po folks, and most anything beats Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

Though I do enjoy poking around in the general store, I haven’t eaten at Cracker Barrel in the last three years. My mom loved those pancakes enough to endure breakfast with a grumpy, jetlagged daughter, and it wouldn’t feel right eating them without her.

What’s your favorite part of the Cracker Barrel experience?

pancakesUpdate: Last year, I went with my sister and dad to have the pecan pancakes again and they did not disappoint. Wish I could say the same about my meal last week. I had the frequently touted chicken and dumplings and they were just sad, y’all. Not as sad as the straight-from-the-can, lukewarm niblets, but almost. Of the fried okra, I will not even speak. In their defense, the biscuit was edible.

What puzzles me is that in my infinite quest to find a go-to chicken and dumplings recipe, I keep running across ones that claim to taste “Just Like Cracker Barrel,” as if it were a good thing. Huh?

So after a spectacularly underwhelming supper, I decided to go back for breakfast. Thought maybe I could drown the bad memories with a little bottle of maple-esque syrup. Low and behold, it worked. Note: Notions like this hardly ever work, but never underestimate the power of pecan pancakes.

Photo credits: Cracker Barrel exterior by Keith Lam, Flickr Creative Commons; pics with bad lighting by yours truly.

128. Krystal–It’s Hip to be Square.

10 Apr

2926707617_c888f07a59_mWhen White Castle burgers made their debut on grocery store shelves a couple of decades back, this Mississippi girl was perplexed. The label said “White Castle” but I’d always known the wee burgers by another name, Krystal. These so-called White Castles featured the same sliver of meat sandwiched between a spongy square bun, complete with the diced onions and dill pickle slices.

White Castle and Krystal. Separated at birth?

White Castle and Krystal. Separated at birth?

Imagine my surprise when I learned that Krystal–a Southern staple since 1932–was a late-blooming imitator of America’s first fast-food burger chain. Apparently, everybody in the Northeast grew up eating White Castles, while those in the South ate Krystals. (I believe folks on the West coast learned about square hamburgers toward the end of the 20th century when they started appearing on appetizer menus as “sliders.” I should mention that this unfortunate name also originated at White Castle.)

My apologies to White Castle fans (who go by the name “cravers”), but my first-hand knowledge about The Original Slider® is limited to the frozen variety I last tasted back in the 90s. Krystals, however, hold a special place in my heart, much like an old friend with whom I cross paths a couple of times a decade.

My first memory of Krystal comes from the 70s when an elderly family friend (whose name I have forgotten) would occasionally pile a bunch of kids in the car and take us for burgers after church. On those days, I felt like I’d won the lottery (although I should substitute the word “bingo” seeing as Baptists consider gambling a sin). Not only did I get to skip out on eating yet another detestable Sunday pot roast, I got stickers! Note to kids today: Back then stickers were as rare as cassettes are today. (Let’s have a moment of silence to mourn the passing of mix tapes.)

70's Krystal stickers=swoon!!

70’s Krystal stickers=swoon!!

Sometime during the 70’s Krystal decided to branch out into fried chicken, but it never really caught on, seeing as the logistics were far too complicated. If you wanted bird, you had to go to an annex around back for it. Not really worth the bother. Before I graduated high school, they’d abandoned this practice and now you can get fried chicken as part of the regular menu. Sort of. They’ve taken away the bone and added a bun. Plus, it’s called “chik’n,” which seems a bit dubious to me, but I’m nothing if not skeptical.

The late 80’s/early 90’s were my peak Krystal-loving years, seeing as I was a college student and Krystal was A. cheap and B. open after the bars close. I must confess, I still believe those to be Krystal’s key selling points.

College kids' dining budget...

College kids’ dining budget…

So how does Krystal’s food taste? I hoped you’d never ask.

For tastebuds influenced by nostalgia and/or alcohol, Krystal burgers can be quite satisfying. The steamed buns offer the ideal pairing of spongy white bread and beef fat. The sliver of meat provides a canvas for Pollack-style spattering of diced onions and mustard embellished with a pickle chip. A slice of American cheese served slightly askew can be had for just a few nickels and dimes more.

Hot-off-the-grill Krystal burgers are best when eaten immediately. Like before your car pulls away from the drive thru. Seriously. If you must wait till you get home, I beseech you to treat the burgers to a quick trip in the microwave. To quote an old friend and Krystal-eating companion, “A cold Krystal is DEATH.”

The only way to eat a Krystal...

The only way to eat a Krystal…

I have fond memories of Krystal’s lemon pie, but they can’t be trusted, seeing as they were formed before I properly developed my dessert palate. It’s not that I’ve become a dessert snob so much as…Ok, yes it is.

Had I not been indoctrinated into Krystal eating as a child, I’m not sure what my opinion of the burgers would be. Certainly, I’ve had better tasting sliders, but they’re just not Krystal’s. The restaurant’s latest slogan sums it up: “Krystal®–Nothin’ Like It.” Unless you count White Castle.

Have you eaten at Krystal? White Castle? Both? How do they compare?

Photo Credits: Krystal Restaurant by Scott Beale, Flickr Creative Commons; Loose Change by Rich Renomeron, Flickr Creative Commons; Hot sign by Jonathon Coleman, Flickr Creative Commons.

126. Balls–Because Who Wants a Square Meal?

26 Mar

Oreo balls--Not necessarily round.

Oreo balls–Not necessarily round.

In other parts of the globe, these delicacies might be called hors d’oeuvres, bon bons, truffles, and the like. In the South, we call ‘em like we see ‘em: Balls.

The selection of stuff Southerners will roll up into a ball and pass around to friends and relations grows larger by the day. Ten years ago, I’d never imagined one could transform broccoli into a edible sphere that would become a potluck staple. What’s next, kale?

Love at first sausage ball.

Love at first sausage ball.

Much like Southern salads, balls come in two separate, yet equally delicious, groups: sweet and savory. A few of the treats refuse to take sides, so I’ll henceforth refer to them as “swavory.”

Seeing as I like to save the best for last, we’ll start with savory. In this group you’ll find meatballs, sausage balls (yes, sausage is a meat, but these are two entirely different animals, so to speak), spinach balls, crab balls, ham balls (not to be confused with ham rolls), fried macaroni and cheese balls, and the dreaded cafeteria staple, cod balls. I found a recipe in the Bells Best III cookbook for Curried Chicken Balls, which includes mayonnaise, cream cheese, chutney, and flaked coconut. I’m guessing the next time that particular contributor offered to bring a dish to a party, she was told, “We could really use some ice. And maybe a couple of 2 liters.”

3168885199_b4cf60e58f_mI haven’t yet mentioned cheese balls because they represent a whole subcategory of savory. These usually feature cream cheese as the main ingredient–sometimes balanced out with shredded cheddar–embellished with one or more of the following add ins: worcestershire sauce, steak sauce, Tabasco sauce, Lipton onion soup mix, Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix, minced onions, diced peppers, cayenne, and paprika. Once the desired ingredients are mixed together and shaped into a ball, the whole thing is covered in one of two things: chopped pecans or thin-sliced corned/dried beef.

I’ve run across a few cheese ball recipes that feature pineapple, which fit in the swavory category along with such creations as: popcorn balls, and…well, nothing else comes to mind at the moment. Can anybody help me out here?

Goodness gracious, great balls of coconut!

Goodness gracious, great balls of coconut!

The sweet ball category breaks into two subsections: chocolate covered and not. Amongst the former you’ll find: peanut butter balls, coconut balls, Oreo cookie balls, cake balls, and regular old chocolate balls. The latter group includes: rum balls, bourbon balls, amaretto balls, teetotaller balls for Baptists (just kidding!), pecan balls, date balls, and peanut butter balls (sans chocolate, but why?). Any or all of these can be rolled in coconut, though some probably take to powdered sugar better. Speaking of which, one could make the argument that given their shape donut holes ought to be referred to as balls. I, myself, am not planning to start a petition, but if there’s one floating around, I’ll sign it. Just don’t ask me for a contribution.

Why are Southerners so smitten with balls? I couldn’t tell you. Maybe the bite-size portion makes them easier to eat. However, I’ve yet to run across a Southerner who finds eating to be complicated in any way whatsoever. Ok, perhaps what to, but certainly not how to.

Translation: You're not worth the trouble.

Translation: You’re not worth the trouble.

One thing’s for sure: making stuff into balls doesn’t simplify the operation. Quite the contrary. How much easier would it be to toss some pre-cubed cheese on a plate and call it a day? Or to frost a couple of layers of cake as opposed to dipping a couple dozen in temperamental chocolate? Scientific answer: A lot!

I can think of only two reasons why Southerners go to the trouble: 1. Balls are cute, making for a more-attractive dessert table and 2. We love you. We really love you.

Growing up, one of the highlights of Christmas for me was enjoying the bountiful harvest of my mom’s annual candy crop. English toffee, pecan pralines, white fudge with candied fruit, haystacks, and my sister’s favorite, coconut balls. Once Mom got to where she couldn’t make the candy anymore, well, she didn’t stop, but she pared down the list considerably. Coconut balls were the first to get their walking papers.

One down, 870 to go!

One down, 870 to go!

After a few ball-free years, I decided to valiantly pick up the baton and produce some coconut balls. My reasoning was: A. I love my sister and B. how hard could they be? Seventeen hours into the process (give or take), my mindset had shifted to A. not that much and B. aaaaacccckkkk! That was my first and last attempt to visit that particular torture chamber. However, if you are more patient than I, you’ll find them worth the trouble. After all, in the words of the Steve Miller band: “you got to go through Hell before you get to Heaven.”

What are some of your favorite balls? Please do tell!

Coconut Balls
2 lbs. Confectioner’s sugar
1 can coconut (16 oz.)
1 stick paraffin
1 large pkg. Chocolate chips
3 sticks butter
1 can Eagle brand
2 1/2 cups chopped pecans

Combine sweetened condensed milk, sugar, and coconut in large bowl. Melt butter and pour over mixture and mix. Add pecans. Chill for at least 3 to 4 hours. Melt paraffin in double boiler and add chocolate chips. Stir until all are dissolved. Roll candy into balls. Dip into chocolate and place on waxed paper.

Note: As usual, the ingredients and directions are a little vague. Use your best judgement. Seeing as folks don’t enjoy the delightful flavor of paraffin as much as they used to, I’d recommend locating some high-quality chocolate melts. In a pinch, you can add about a tablespoon of shortening or vegetable oil per package of chocolate chips to thin the chocolate for easier dipping.

Oh, and one trick my sister and I learned this year: Don’t waste money on one of those fancy chocolate dipping utensils. Just break off the middle two tines of a plastic fork, and you’re good to go!

Photo Credits: Oreo balls by This Year’s Love, Flickr Creative Commons; Sausage Balls by Ezra Pound Cake; cheese ball with crackers by Adrianne Lacy, Flickr Creative Commons; coconut date balls by Christaface, Flickr Creative Commons;

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